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Local

Mendota Hills Wind Farm looks to improve efficiency, tax base

Current system operates on deficit

DIXON – Tearing down and replacing the turbines at Mendota Hills Wind Farm could generate an extra $550,000 in property taxes for the Lee County.

The 13-year-old wind farm, owned by Dallas-based parent company Leeward Renewable Energy, has requested a special-use permit from the Lee County Board to uproot its fleet of 63 turbines in the southeast region of the county and replace about half of them with larger, upgraded models.

"This is actually a very unique first-of-its-kind Illinois project," said Doug Lee, an attorney representing the wind farm. "With advances in technology, those half as many turbines will produce more energy and more economic benefit for Lee County."

The Lee County Zoning Board heard testimony from four individuals representing the scope of the project and its possible impact to the area Thursday, an initial hearing that's set to continue Monday.

Chris Green, asset manager for the company, said the aim is to construct 27 to 34 turbines that would triple the annual energy production from 90,000 to 270,000 megawatt hours on an annual basis.

The upgrades also would increase energy production capacity from 23 percent to 43 percent, he said.

Because of the formula used to determine wind turbine property tax, the higher capacity could mean an increase in county revenue with an estimated tax jump from about $350,000 to $900,000.

Work on the project would be slated for next summer pending approval from the County Board, which will address the request once the zoning board makes a recommendation.

Green said the wind farm's property tax contributions have decreased from about $430,000 to $380,000 in the past 5 years because of the depreciation in equipment value.

The current turbines, which make up the state's first wind farm, are operating at a deficit, with the largest cost being maintenance, Green said.

"The main stress is the simple fact that these machines are not efficient," he said.

The height of the turbines would increase from about 213 feet to between 335 and 426 feet. The total height to the tip of the blade would be about 600 feet.

Being larger structures, the turbines would expand the wind farm's current footprint as they need to be spaced out more, affecting about 50 parcels of land.

The project would span across Viola, Brooklyn, Willow Creek and Wyoming townships.

Green said the company has paid about $5.5 million in local taxes since 2003.

Testimony on the proposal is expected to extend for at least 2 more days.

NEXT MEETING

The Lee County Zoning Board will meet at 7 p.m. Monday in the third-floor board room of the Old Lee County Courthouse.

Those wishing to speak or ask questions during the proceedings can sign up in advance or at the meeting.

Go to leecountyil.com for an agenda or more information.

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